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Bus Tickets Are Windfall for Schools

Thu, 07/06/2023 - 11:05

Pass a stopped school bus? You’re on camera — pay up

It’s illegal to pass a school bus with its stop arm extended and red lights flashing; drivers who do so in Suffolk are automatically ticketed through the county’s Stop-Arm Camera Program.
Durell Godfrey

Just over two years after its official launch, Suffolk County’s Stop-Arm Camera Program has been racking up tickets across the county, and sending the money from the fines into school district coffers, including those on the South Fork.

In New York, and most other states as well, it’s illegal to pass a school bus that has its STOP arm extended and its red lights flashing. First-time violators can incur fines of $250. Additional violations occurring within 18 months of the first one are subject to incremental penalties of $25, up to $300.

According to Marykate Guilfoyle, a Suffolk County spokeswoman, the program has been effective so far in enforcing the rules. “Ticketing rates have decreased over the lifetime of the program, even as installed buses have increased, meaning that we are changing the culture and creating safer roadways,” she said last month by email.

In the coming weeks, the Springs School District is slated to receive $4,547 and the Bridgehampton School District $1,315. Sag Harbor, which also buses children for the Sagaponack and Wainscott Schools, will receive $6,307 on top of the $4,977 it received last year. Amagansett received $547 in January, and East Hampton accepted its $12,209 grant on May 16. Information was not available for Montauk by press time this week.

School districts can choose to use the stop-arm camera money however they see fit, but many are applying it toward busing expenses. “We are using the funds to help pay for our wireless radio service that each bus driver has on the bus,” Jennifer Buscemi, the Sag Harbor School’s business administrator, wrote in an email.

Sam Schneider, East Hampton’s assistant superintendent for business, explained that his district put its grant into the general fund, and that it can be “used to support the needs of the Transportation Department.”

Outside of the school-district grants, which are determined “based on school district population size,” Ms. Guilfoyle said that the money from fines “is used for a variety of different initiatives, including public service announcements, school crossing guards, [and] Little League sponsorships.”

In February, Newsday reported that the Stop-Arm Camera Program had taken in close to $25 million from Suffolk drivers violating the law.

The program came at no cost to the county through a company called Bus Patrol, which invested more than $22.5 million to outfit the buses with cameras and has since pumped over $1.1 million into improving the Suffolk Safety Center in Hauppauge, where the tickets are processed.

Each school day, there are more than 4,500 school buses on county roads, serving about 25,000 bus stops, Ms. Guilfoyle said. “Over those routes, only six tickets are issued for every 1,000 stops the school bus makes,” she said. “Even the top ticketing locations only issue on average 3.3 tickets per month. On top of that, the rate the Suffolk program tickets at, is approximately 30 percent below the average of other programs across New York State.”

At its peak, Bus Patrol reported that in November 2021, there were 17,267 tickets issued in Suffolk. In December 2022, the most recent month for which data were available, there were 8,742 tickets issued, a decline of about 49 percent.

 

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